Global weight gain more damaging than rising numbers

World made of hot dogs and sweets Extra weight could be the equivalent of adding an extra billion people to the planet.

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Researchers say if increasing levels of fatness are replicated globally it could mean the equivalent of an extra billion people on the planet.

The team estimated the total weight of people on the planet and found that North America had the highest average.

Although only 6% of the global population live there, it is responsible for more than a third of the obesity.

The research is published in the journal BMC Public Health.

In their report, the researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine calculate the weight of the global population at 287 million tonnes. They estimate that 15 million tonnes of this mass is due to people being overweight, and 3.5 million tonnes due to obesity.

Using World Health Organization data from 2005, the scientists worked out that the average global body weight was 62kg (137lb). But there were huge regional differences. In North America, the average was 80.7kg (178lb), while in Asia it was 57.7kg (127lb) .

Start Quote

One of the problems with definitions of obesity - it fosters a them and us ideal - when actually we're all getting fatter”

End Quote Prof Ian Roberts London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

While Asia accounts for 61% of the global population, it only accounts for 13% of the weight of the world due to obesity.

One of the authors of the paper, Prof Ian Roberts, explained the thinking behind the calculation.

"When people think about environmental sustainability, they immediately focus on population. Actually, when it comes down to it - it's not how many mouths there are to feed, it's how much flesh there is on the planet."

Weight of the world

The researchers say that just focusing on obesity in individuals or in groups is divisive and unhelpful.

"One of the problems with definitions of obesity is that it fosters a 'them and us' ideal. Actually, we're all getting fatter." Prof Roberts told BBC News.

The scientists also compiled tables of the heaviest and lightest countries according to their estimates.

The US, with its well documented problems with weight, is top of the list. If the rest of the world were to emulate the Americans, Prof Roberts says, it would have dramatic implications for the planet.

Thin Asian lady Japanese people have a low average BMI but high standards of living.

"If every country in the world had the same level of fatness that we see in the USA, in weight terms that would be like an extra billion people of world average body mass," he explained.

While countries like Eritrea, Vietnam and Ethiopia are at the other end of the scale from the US, the researchers argue it is not sufficient to say that being skinny is just a factor of poverty. The researchers point to a country like Japan which, according to Professor Roberts, could be a model for others.

"The Japanese example is quite strong. Average BMI (Body Mass Index) in USA in 2005 was 28.7. In Japan, it was 22. You can be lean without being really poor, and Japan seems to have pulled that off."

Car culture

But other countries in the top 10 most weighty are more of a surprise, and include Kuwait, Croatia, Qatar and Egypt.

Prof Roberts says that the high number of Arab countries is due to the impact of the automobile.

"One of the most important determinants of average body mass index is motor vehicle gas consumption per capita. So, it is no surprise to see many of the Arab countries in the list - people eat but they move very little because they drive everywhere."

The research team hopes its work will prompt new thinking about how the world weighs up issues of consumption, weight and population growth.

"We often point the finger at poor women in Africa having too many babies," says Prof Roberts. "But we've also got to think of this fatness thing; it's part of the same issue of exceeding our planetary limits."

How much is the world over-eating?

No. of extra adults that could be fed with food eaten by:
Country Pop. Overweight Obese





Top 10 over-eaters

United States




Russian Federation




















United Kingdom
















Bottom 10 over-eaters





Sri Lanka








The Gambia




Central African Republic








East Timor








Sao Tome and Principe








Population source: WHO data 2005


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  • rate this

    Comment number 316.

    As an American, I agree that we eat too much, but we're also eating the wrong things - artery-clogging meat and cheese at every meal. If we took a cue from other cultures and based our meals around fresh vegetables, whole grains, and beans, we would not only be a lot thinner, we'd also have enough crops to feed the world (rather than to fatten up animals for rich people to kill and eat).

  • Comment number 315.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 314.

    Tobacco smokers tend to be thin. See, we're saving you after all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 313.

    "Yet there are thin people that eat and eat and eat but don't gain weight."

    I can only stress this enough.

  • rate this

    Comment number 312.

    This data is too simplistic. 6 million Americans take anabolic steroids. That's going to throw the average weight up, and the consumption will rocket as well! America has all kinds of problems. People eating too much corn syrup is hardly top of the list.
    America has body dysmorphia. Because of mainstream steroid use by male models, actors and sportsmen a 70kg guy is considered scrawny nowadays.

  • rate this

    Comment number 311.

    Whats this metabolisim descrimination by the BBC!

    Not all fat/ over-BMI people are eating more, indeed some peopel with a fast metabolisim can eat twice as much as normal people and yet show as under BMI.

    It is consumption and not weight of peolple that is the issue and to say otherwise is realy poor show.

  • rate this

    Comment number 310.

    295. Stewpot
    Fresh water for drinking and growing food is just as important ... and fat people do not necessarily use more water (although that could be the subject of some more research in its own right).
    do you not see the contradiction there? They do use more, as water is needed to grow food.

  • rate this

    Comment number 309.

    @ 292.indiansummer42
    "All animals, given the chance, will eat/kill/destroy everything in their way for their own superiority. From rats to rabbits to bacteria. The difference is that humans have morals. How many vegan tigers do you see?"

    What planet are you from!? Only some humans have certain morals that is why we have high obesity levels, drive cars and generally destroy the planet.

  • rate this

    Comment number 308.

    @301.Chazz Trinder, I'm not sure where homosexuality came into the equation as I never raised the issue, and the two are not linked.

    I do agree that there is a genetic part of the equation, but it is not the only factor and not all those that are obsese have a varient of the FTO gene that increases the risk of becoming Obese.

  • rate this

    Comment number 307.

    According to the above chart there are only 12 obese people in the State of Eritrea amongst a population of 3 million. At least the other 2,999,988 know who ate all the pies!

  • rate this

    Comment number 306.

    302.thetropicalfish - "The population growth is a myth" Are you mad?

    The myth is that the world's current population is unsustainable in and of itself - it's the excess consumption by us in the developed world, combined with our wanton waste levels, and the developing world's lack of access to, for example, refridgeration, that is the real issue.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 305.

    How many vegan tigers do you see?
    I think you need a biology lesson, although you do meantion Tigers I have seen three vegan or they may have been vegetarian sharks. They had a 12 step plan so that they would not eat fish. Remember fish are friends not food.

  • rate this

    Comment number 304.

    But there's a hell of a lot of fat people that aren't over-eaters at all. Yet there are thin people that eat and eat and eat but don't gain weight. See how flawed the weight/BMI argument is? Resources aren't solely being used by the bigger people.

  • rate this

    Comment number 303.

    The "Obesity Crisis" is a fraud; there is no scientific measure of fat and the medical industry uses arbitrary measures to scare us into thinking there is something wrong with us. There shouldn't be one place on this planet suffering from malnutrition: these "health experts" should be in the places on this earth where famine, war, or pestilence cause suffering, Anything less diminishes humanity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 302.

    "The population growth is a myth" Are you mad?

  • rate this

    Comment number 301.

    @ 281 Avalon That fat people need access to food to get fat is a statement of the obvious. It's no more helpful than noting that while homosexuals are born that way they cannot practice their preference without access to partners of the same sex.

  • Comment number 300.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 299.

    To me it has always been clear - the population growth problem is a myth. The real issue is how much resources each individual consumes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 298.

    Jenny said when she was just bout five years old
    You know my parents are gonna be the death of us all
    Two TV sets and two Cadillac cars -
    Well you know it ain't gonna help me at all
    Not just a little tiny bit.

    Not about being overweight,but MORE about CONSUMERISM and its Vacuous Rants.

    The Vevet Underground.

  • rate this

    Comment number 297.


    The UK is far from over populated, Urbanization/Industrial Revolution led to the creation of Towns and Cities and overcrowding..

    "A group of 36,000 individuals – only 0.6 per cent of the population – own 50 per cent of rural land"

    Read more:


Page 9 of 24


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